What is the chemical composition of the perfect tomato?

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The difference between a locally grown heirloom tomato and the mass produced one is pretty obvious to anyone with a palette — but amongst the infinite variation of different varieties of a fruit, is there something you can link directly to deliciousness?

Through the chemical analysis, and blind taste tests, of 152 different varieties of tomatoes, researchers have pegged the chemicals that makes consumers prefer one type to another. It seems there's an astonishing variety in the levels of some of these compounds, some of which can have a 3,000 fold variance between breeds. So which ones are actually the ones that people like the most?

Once accounting for fructose, there were seven compounds linked to flavor intensity: 2-butylacetate, cis-3-hexen-1- ol, citric acid, 3-methyl-1-butanol, 2-methylbutanal, 1-octen- 3-one, and trans,trans-2,4-decadienal. For sweetness, eight of those overlapped, and three more joined the list: geranial, 2-methylbutanal, and 3-methyl-1-butanol.


The researchers also discovered a link between certain volatiles (odor-producing chemicals) and our perception of sweetness. While their presence or absence did little to make people prefer one over the other, their presence made people feel like the fruit was sweeter than the sugar content could account for.

So while we sit and wait for someone to engineer the perfect tomato out of these (admittedly arbitrary) qualities, here's the tomato that people liked above all others: the cherry roma, available at a farmers' market near you. Just avoid the Marmande VFA, which was less than well received.


Top image: The Library of Congress